Writer’s Block

Okay, so, I have NOT been writing. I did Nanowrimo this November, for the first time, and afterwards I slunk back into editing what I’d already written, but not adding to it significantly. I made the New Year’s resolution to finish both of my primary unfinished novels. I have lots of unfinished novels, but there are two that are more finishable and important to me than the others. One thing I’ve always done, is read and write book reviews of what I’ve read. I have even dumped that. Woe is me. You don’t need to feel sorry for me, I feel sorry enough for myself. It’s more than enough, way too much. Seasonal affective disorder? Laziness? Flu season/Blue season? I’ve been watching a lot of TV, reading, and due to a case of bronchitis, coupled with a vitamin B12 deficiency (I’m getting weekly shots of the stuff now. I’ve only had one so far.) I haven’t taken any of my beloved walks. I still can’t tolerate the cold air in my “Bronchs”. Damn. Excuses, excuses. I’m done, and I started today with this book review. I finished the book at least a week ago. I looooved it! There are not enough O’s in the world to express how beyond love I feel about this book: Euphoria by Lily King. It is my new Bible (People have compared it to The Poisonwood Bible, which I also loved, but not quite as much.) So here it is, my first writing in dayzzzzzz. Damn:

I usually finish a book, and write the review the next day, at the very latest. This time, I’ve been ruminating about and contemplating what to write, not agonizing, but definitely obsessing a little, for over a week. I felt compelled to take this much time, because I loved this story and these characters beyond the sane and reasonable love I often feel for literature. Lily King is obviously a brilliant and inspired writer, and I felt the same way when I was reading Euphoria (inspired, not brilliant (I wish!)). It’s the fascinating and dramatic tale of a love triangle, set in 1930’s New Guinea. The three characters involved are anthropologists, two men and a woman. While they’re experiencing their own desire-fueled, jealous, emotional turbulence, they’re exploring, and documenting the culture and customs of the Tam tribe, including the gender-bending roles and rituals between the men and women of the tribe. Nell Stone, the woman in the love triangle, is married to Schuyler Fenwick (Fen), and they’ve left the Mumbanyo tribe (“fierce warriors”) because Nell couldn’t relate to, or tolerate the tribe’s violent and aggressive nature. Fen, however, resents her because they left. He also resents her accomplishment. She has written a best seller, and is currently a famous anthropologist. She has kept her maiden name. He seems to feel like he’s merely regarded as Nell Stone’s husband. She wants to stay married to him. She wants very much to have a child. There have been some tragic and dark incidents involving babies, Nell’s own, and the babies of the Mumbanyo tribe. These vaguely mentioned incidents torture and haunt Nell.

Let’s get the one complaint out of the way (not enough to subtract a star, or even a fraction of a star – actually, I wish I could give this book more than five stars). Sometimes the author hints darkly at an event instead of clearly explaining. She infers. Now, some literary-type readers prefer the subtlety of inferences. I admire those who understand them. I do not consider these readers to be posers. I, too,  love the ambiguities and possibilities of an unanswered (or unanswerable) question. But, in this instance, and some others, I wish I knew more about what happened before the story opens,  Fen’s and Nell’s almost two-year marriage, and especially Fen’s dark past. He grew up in a huge family, living in isolation in the Australian outback. I’m pretty sure about the type of behaviors that this one, dark hint refers to, but not entirely sure. The resulting twist in Fen’s character, however, is more important than the particular, salacious details of his nefarious family history, and his acceptance and expectation of evil and violence in every civilization steers his actions as an adult anthropologist living with the tribes along the banks of the Sepik River (“flamboyantly serpentine, the Amazon of the South Pacific” – see? Isn’t this author brilliant?).

Of the three main characters, Fen is the only one who doesn’t have a narrative voice. The reader only knows him through the first person narration of Andrew Bankson, and the third person limited narration of his wife, Nell Stone (loosely based on the real-life anthropologist Margaret Mead), along with her journal entries. We only get to hear Fen’s voice through dialogue and observe his actions through Nell’s and Andrew’s lenses. He’s the least sympathetic character throughout. Although I did not love him as a person, I loved the creation of him, the complexity of his sometimes-evil nature. He was interesting. He absorbed my attention. And, I understood him, although I could never empathize with him. I’ve met him many times, here in my world. He reminds me of so many men I’ve known well. He’s Australian, but in many ways, like an American man.

So, let’s get on with my love letter to Lily King. I plunged under, into the world she created with her words, and did not care to come up for air, ever. I once had a writing teacher who told us to create a list when we got “stuck”. Here’s the best list I’ve ever read (describing Andrew Bankson’s past): “The house I grew up in there, Hemsley House, had been in the possession of Bankson scientists for three generations, its every desktop, drawer, and wardrobe stuffed with scientist’s remnants: spyglasses, test tubes, finger scales, pocket magnifiers, loupes, compasses, and a brass telescope; boxes of glass slides, and ento pins, geodes, fossils, bones, teeth, petrified wood, framed beetles and butterflies, and thousands of loose insect carcasses that turned to powder upon contact.” A positively Dickensian list, but better, less preposterously wordy and more utilitarian than anything Dickens wrote. I wanted to walk through Hemsley House, and touch those things. In a way, I felt like I had.

I could go on and on. I underlined passages and made notations in the margins. I lived inside these pages. There are so many layers, and so many insights and ideas to explore and rethink. I keep going back. After all, anthropology is the study of humans and their lives, their relationships to each other and to their environment, their art, their chronicles. It’s everything. I keep going back to a diagram (a “grid”) that Fen, Andrew and Nell create together, categorizing personalities into the four main directions on a compass. You don’t have to be just North, South, East, or West, though, you can be a Northwest personality, or a Southeast personality. This novel is so complex and so deep. It asks so many beautifully unanswerable questions. Above all, this story leaves the reader with a way to look at, appreciate and observe cultures that are highly civilized, but considered to be primitive and inferior to traditional Western culture. These characters view anthropology through a wide, panoramic lens, a zoom lens, a microscopic lens, and just about any other lens you can think of, including no lens, just immersion. It’s also about how our ideas, like our children, take on a life of their own once they’re launched out into the world. You can take aim, but you have no control after they’re flying free.

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Hidden in the Dark

Amazon chose my third novel, Hidden in the Dark, for publication. Thanks to everyone who nominated it during my 30 day Kindlescout “Campaign”. It will be available in ebook form soon. I still own the print rights and a print edition will be ready eventually, so stay tuned.

Kindlescout has been a fascinating experience. I’ve been a teacher and am now an author, never a business owner. I’ve never studied the academic subjects of business, advertising or marketing and this is interesting, and, I believe, unique.

Here’s how the whole thing worked: I submitted my never before published manuscript and filled out a form with a blurb, a tagline, an uploaded book cover image and a ton of other stuff. I also got to choose up to three genres. My book would appear, on the Kindlescout website in each designated genre area, so it would’ve been best to choose three genres. I chose one, “Mystery & Suspense”. My lack of business savvy raised its ugly head and blew me a big, fat, insulting raspberry. I signed a contract to participate in the ongoing “contest” and a contract that applied if my book was chosen for publication. Then, when my submission was accepted, the book went live on the site and my “campaign” began. There are upwards of 200 books on the site everyday. It was up to me to collect “nominations” by getting the info out there on social media sites and via mass emails. Everyday I had access to statistics regarding how my campaign was progressing. There’s a “Hot & Trending” category that the authors strive to get into. These books are the top twenty books in a twenty four hour period, the ones with the most nominations. Every participating author’s goal is to stay “Hot & Trending” for as many 24 hour periods as possible during the thirty day campaign. After the 30 days were over, the Amazon editing staff read the book. They choose which books will be published based on basically, who the hell knows what. There’s a lot of speculation on how the editors choose.

Here’s a list of possibilities:

  1. Number of days on “Hot & Trending”. I spent 302 out of a possible 720 hours in “Hot & Trending”. Not a great statistic. I accumulated 1.7 thousand views altogether. Another not great statistic. I know from my own experience and communicating with a bunch of other Kindlescout participants on an awesome message board called “Kboards” that you can drive yourself crazy checking your stats constantly and worrying about whether or not they’re good enough to get your book chosen for publication.

2. Number of over all “Views” – This could depend, in part, on where your book appears and how often it appears on the site. I guess, ideally, you want it to appear in “Hot & Trending”, of course, plus “Recently Added” – on the first day of your campaign, and then “Ending Soon” during the last three days of your campaign, and then it appears in however many genres you chose. (Reminder: I chose one, which wasn’t wise.)

3. Having a professional looking cover. Some of the authors pay cover artists to make them a cover. Some of the authors are pretty accomplished book cover designers and make their own. I’m not an accomplished book cover designer, but made my own anyway.

4. Having a great tagline. Mine was “Psychotic Killer VS 21st Century Nancy Drew”.

5. Having a great blurb. I suck at writing blurbs but tried my best.

6. After the campaign is over, the Amazon editors actually read your book and factor in whether or not they like it. Some things they might consider: Is it marketable? Will it sell? Is it a good book? Are you a good writer?

Once my campaign was over, I waited exactly one week before I got the good news. I lived about seven years of emotional agony in those seven days, but survived. The authors on Kboards were super supportive and shared eloquent expressions of their own emotional agony also. We gave each other virtual hugs and it helped.

The authors who are chosen get an advance, 50% royalties and Amazon promotes the book. The author also retains the print rights. Amazon owns the ebook, audio book and foreign language rights.

Writing is such a solitary pursuit. Sometimes I feel like I’m working away in a vacuum and no one will ever read what I’ve written. I’ll never connect with anyone. Yet I still write, everyday. Being chosen by the Amazon editors guarantees some connections. My characters will be real to someone besides me. What an honor. What a gift. Let’s see how far this takes us.

Helpful Links:

https://kindlescout.amazon.com

http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=213112.new;topicseen#new

HIDDEN IN THE DARK

I need tons of nominations to impress the “Big Guys” at Amazon.
It’s free! And I promise you won’t get any annoying emails from them, either. Anyone who has an Amazon.com account can do it.
https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3HAS5FYM9TKAW
So please share this. And, please nominate HIDDEN IN THE DARK.
This is the first book in a new series and I’ve entered it in an Amazon “contest” type thing called Kindlescout. I’ll find out in about a month if I’ve been chosen.
My friend Shaun Melendy took the cover photo deep in the Hockomock Swamp at the darkest hour of the night!
I’ve been working on this book for years and finally got up the nerve to send it out there. It’s about a serial killer who’s terrorizing the fictional town of “Eastfield”. I know, totally lame disguise for this place I love so much.
Thanks!
Alyson

Legacy

They watched. They listened. And they made it their own.

97 hatchlings.

2016 Purple Team

Run. Lift. Flap. Glide

Oceans. Fields. Swamplands. Rivers. Forests.

Predators and Weather.

Be off.

Go forth.

God speed.

Carry a piece of me with you for as long as it lasts.

You will be with me forever.

I watched someone smell a book yesterday, an old one.

And I thought

Yes. She is carrying the best part of me with her.

The ancient part.

Breathe it in.

And then tell someone else about it.

Show them.

Hold it up.

Let them try.

Book Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

One of those books! I finished it last night, right before I fell asleep and I miss Joe already. Although his is not a voice you want to have in your head, I enjoyed the experience humonstrously. Why? He loves a girl who reads and his love is epic. When I was in high school, I read The Catcher in the Rye multiple times and all of Salinger’s books (the rest only once each). I recognized the Holden Caulfield influence early, before Joe even uttered the word “phony”. Eventually, the author makes the connection super obvious, right down to the red hunting hat and a character named “Salinger”. Joe, however, escalates Holden’s unreliable narration to psychopathic heights Salinger might have dreamed of, but never revealed in his writing. For those of you who read (current popular literature and the classics), this novel is a literary scavenger hunt of the highest calibration (A Moveable Feast of hints, clues and allusions).

One tiny caveat: The first person voice is male and the author’s female and I completely bought into it except for one tiny bump. Joe refers to his girlfriend as twisting her hair into a high bun. To me, he slipped out of character for one heartbeat there. He didn’t seem like a guy who’d use girly-talk words. Most of his personal language was action-packed, witty, intensely intelligent and smutty (to the point where I cringed but enjoyed cringing). Otherwise, he stayed masculine and in character.

If you enjoy a darkly twisted read and a gargantuan page turner, treat yo-self ASAP to this one.

One more scary thought: When I was single, I so would have dated him.

Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire

IMG_1394Answer these questions if you dare. David Bowie’s answers are “on-the-spot”, glib. I took some time with mine. I still want to go back, edit and reflect.

 

Here is Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire:

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  2. What is your greatest fear?
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  5. Which living person do you most admire?
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?
  7. What is your current state of mind?
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  9. On what occasion do you lie?
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  16. When and where were you happiest?
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  21. Where would you most like to live?
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  24. What is your favorite occupation?
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
  27. Who are your favorite writers?
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
  31. What are your favorite names?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
  33. What is your greatest regret?
  34. How would you like to die?
  35. What is your motto?

 

Here are my answers to Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire (constantly subject to change):

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

a book and a cup of Earl Grey Tea

  1. What is your greatest fear?

Boredom

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

fear to express myself during an argument…I hate arguments because people expound and get loud and don’t listen to counter arguments. It’s boring and scary.

A quiet debate is so much more productive.

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

talking and not listening…disrespect

  1. Which living person do you most admire?

Stephen King

  1. What is your greatest extravagance?

generosity toward my children, anyone’s children and my dog, anyone’s dog

  1. What is your current state of mind?

ruminative, imaginative, meditative, almost anything that ends in “-ive”

  1. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

consistency   Like Thoreau said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

  1. On what occasion do you lie?

to protect someone I care about  (Sometimes that someone is myself.)

  1. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

everything that’s sagging or aging or receding or spreading outward

  1. Which living person do you most despise?

Isis and Donald Trump…anyone who’s powerful but demonstrates no humanity

  1. What is the quality you most like in a man?

confidence and intelligence, paired with humility and imagination=humor

  1. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

creativity paired with the confidence to express it=humor

  1. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Recently: Into the Valley of Death rode the 600.

In my lifetime: Quintessential  (It’s a bombastic, pretentious and egotistical word.)

  1. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

words

  1. When and where were you happiest?

home, reading and/or writing, conversations with creative people, preferably with a water view

  1. Which talent would you most like to have?

confidence without ego

  1. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’d be a better and more respectful listener.

  1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My children, my teaching, my books – My most important life’s works.

  1. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A more improved, wiser version of myself.

  1. Where would you most like to live?

a warm (but not hot), tolerant, small city by the ocean, with lots of public parks, forest trails, shoreline

  1. What is your most treasured possession?

a cameo brooch my grandfather gave my grandmother, carved from a single seashell … Something small enough to hold in your hand and carry with you that you hope you never lose.

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

feeling frustrated when a situation is impossible and I have no control, no voice

  1. What is your favorite occupation?

the cultivation of hope.. that’s what the editing process is all about, not just editing my writing, but my life. I like do-overs. That’s why conversation makes me feel anxious. You can’t erase and then rewrite something you’ve said. I guess that’s called an apology. Apologies are tough but necessary.

  1. What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m thoughtfully hopeful and optimistic.

  1. What do you most value in your friends?

creativity and humor

  1. Who are your favorite writers?

Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare (for the classics)

Camus (for essays and reflections – nonfiction)

Jeffery Deaver, Thomas Harris (only the first two books), Louise Penny, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – for contemporary. I like mysteries and crime.

  1. Who is your hero of fiction?

Huckleberry Finn – his journey, his logic, his willingness and ability to change his fundamental beliefs about humanity and how this journey mirrored the profound changes the USA went through during his lifetime.

  1. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Joan of Arc, Martha Corey… someone who was executed for the crime of witchcraft

  1. Who are your heroes in real life?

Abraham Lincoln

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday

Jane Goodall

writers, musicians and artists…so many     Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Bach, Marvin Gaye, Gauguin, Degas…

  1. What are your favorite names?

Tibalt and Cerulean    

  1. What is it that you most dislike?

People who brag about money and material possessions.

People who exploit their weaknesses to earn sympathy.

Physical and emotional cruelty

  1. What is your greatest regret?

Anytime I’ve ever bragged about anything.

Misrepresenting myself so I appear to be way cooler. (Same thing)

  1. How would you like to die?

quickly and with as little pain as possible… Gunshot to a vital organ, if that fits the aforementioned description.

  1. What is your motto?

“In the depth of winter I found there was within myself an invincible summer.” Camus

 

David Bowie’s answers (His 69th birthday was last week.)

 

 

  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?

 

Reading.

 

  • What is your most marked characteristic?

 

Getting a word in edgewise.

 

  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?

 

Discovering morning.

 

  • What is your greatest fear?

 

Converting kilometers to miles.

 

  • What historical figure do you most identify with?

 

Santa Claus.

  1. Which living person do you most admire?

Elvis.

  1. Who are your heroes in real life?

The consumer.

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

While in New York, tolerance.

Outside New York, intolerance.

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Talent.

  1. What is your favorite journey?

The road of artistic excess.

  1. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Sympathy and originality.

  1. Which word or phrases do you most overuse?

“Chthonic,” “miasma.”

  1. What is your greatest regret?

That I never wore bellbottoms.

  1. What is your current state of mind?

Pregnant.

  1. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

My fear of them (wife and son excluded).

  1. What is your most treasured possession?

A photograph held together by cellophane tape of Little Richard that I bought in 1958, and a pressed and dried chrysanthemum picked on my honeymoon in Kyoto.

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Living in fear.

  1. Where would you like to live?

Northeast Bali or south Java.

  1. What is your favorite occupation?

Squishing paint on a senseless canvas.

  1. What is the quality you most like in a man?

The ability to return books.

  1. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

The ability to burp on command.

  1. What are your favorite names?

Sears & Roebuck.

  1. What is your motto?

“What” is my motto.

Happy Merry New Year

2016 – In this year, I resolve to take my writing seriously even if no one else does. Still crouching cowardly behind a transparent shield of self-deprecation, I’ll find the courage and the confidence to keep going.

Keats — “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination”

Which brings us to WORDS (the world’s most holy natural resource).

As destructive as any weapon ever invented,

As dangerous as any venom ever injected,

As passionate as the most devoted lovers,

As lyrical as the rippling notes of an aria,

As graceful as the splash of the artist’s brush,

As slippery as the stones on the brook bottom,

As ominous as the storm’s first breath,

As cold and deadly as the ocean floor,

As claustrophobic as a deep and monstrous cave,

As empty as the air atop the highest mountain,

As huge as the orca,

As tiny as the sand flea,

As powerless as the civilized mind of the limp and useless poet,

As mesmerizing as the tales of a twisted storyteller,

As limitless as anything ever imagined by anyone,

And absolutely free.

– Alyson Larrabee